Lately I’ve been reading Francis Chan’s Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, co-written with Danae Yankoski, which my mom had loaned me. A couple of items I read Saturday toward the end of the book have particularly gripped my attention.
In a two-page biographical vignette, Chan chronicles how Dave Phillips was led to found Children’s Hunger Fund despite his own feelings of inadequacy for the task. Early in their work, they received a call from a pastor in Honduras about a need for a particular medicine. With little idea about even what that medicine was, they started praying. A few hours later, out of the blue they got a call from a pharmaceutical company donating $8 million in that precise medicine!
We’ve all read plenty of what my former pastor would call “wowwie-zowwie stories”, where some amazing coincidence is cited as evidence of God’s power. My intent in citing this one isn’t to throw one more on the heap; to the contrary, I struggle as one who’s heard all the stories, heard so many stories that I end up wondering how many of them are just apophenia.
But this one struck me because, as I wondered, “Why don’t I hear from God and get amazing coincidences like that?” it struck me that, in one case, I sort of did. I remember how it felt to pray with that sort of faith. Looking back it seems less amazing, but through late 2000 and early 2001 as I was praying for the people hanging out in the Harvard Square Pit, it seemed like the most off-the-wall notion imaginable to think that within a year I would be out there regularly as part of a street outreach.
So then…. what happened? Why didn’t it end up as a thriving non-profit like CHF? Was it because we stopped praying? Not to my knowledge, no. I remember praying ardently throughout the lifespan of H2O.
Was it because I wanted to see our efforts grow too badly, because I had a vision of people nationwide and was literally ready to quit my day job and travel around getting people on board — and so, because I wanted it so much, it became something based on human effort? Is it not OK for our human passion for an certain goal to coincide with God’s will? Somehow I doubt that.
I suppose the explanation all the mature Christians in my life offer is that God had some sort of lesson for me. So what is that lesson?
Chan also tells a story about elders in his church becoming so enthralled by the work of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 that they resolved to live it out themselves! Apparently the Spirit pushed them to Un-American Commie excesses, because Chan writes,
We surrendered the keys to our cars, homes, and bank accounts. The elders looked me in the eyes and said, “What’s mine is yours. If anything ever happens to you, I will support and care for your kids as much as I would care for my own. I will be your life insurance.” And because they had a history of genuine sacrifices for the sake of the gospel, I believed what they said. (emphasis in original)
Now, I face a real temptation to turn a story like this into a sociological phenomenon, of jamming the work of the Spirit and Christ’s concern for the poor into almost a liberation theology framework. I don’t think God’s constrained by how we human do-gooders think the Holy Spirit ought to be convicting the American church, by our desire to see him vindicate our righteous indignation.
But I don’t think that view is entirely wrong, either. Where the Spirit works, concern for each other’s material well-being results. That fruit probably won’t lead us into the streets seeking to overturn global capitalism, but it should lead us to overturn the Darwinistic “looking out for number one,” “God helps those who help themselves” ethos in our own hearts.
If I don’t see that happening in my country’s church, is it right for me to speak out?
Let’s write a book!
As I flipped through the biography of Yankoski, and the ads for Chan’s other books, a crazy idea hit me: Maybe writing my own experiences of hearing or not knowing if I’m hearing from the Holy Spirit would be useful for others. Maybe I should write, if not a book, at least an essay. I could always scribble down a few thoughts,
Production of bold ideas has never really been a deficiency of my brain. Production of impetus to follow through, well, that’s a different story. It’s now Wednesday and I haven’t really thought about this idea since then. But maybe I need to pray that, if God wants me to do something with these experiences involving the written word, that he would give me supernatural stamina to make it happen.
Epilogue: A two-paragraph review
This post isn’t to review Chan’s book, but it’s probably worth sharing my thoughts briefly for someone considering reading it. I found the first portion a bit dull. It’s hard to explain exactly why; it’s not like non-Charismatic pastor-authors emphasizing the Spirit are a dime a dozen. Maybe it’s because I’ve been fortunate to be around intellectually powerful Christians (including not a few Charismatics) who have put a proper emphasis on the Spirit without making him into a son et lumiere. So Chan’s thesis is refreshing but not entirely novel to me.
Toward the end, though, I found myself identifying with an awful lot of Chan’s examples, and not just the two examples cited above. As I thought more concretely about the Holy Spirit acting both to change me as an individual and to change the church, a natural excitement developed. I paused in the middle of the afterword to finish off this post. The name afterword, suggesting a throwaway chapter, does this section an injustice. The point about not quenching the Holy Spirit’s action in others is brilliant!
So much of our cultural Christianity in the United States has developed from the Protestant work ethic, from the notion that saving for one’s future benefit is not just a privilege but a responsibility. I don’t question the need for wise financial stewardship, but Chan seems to suggest that sometimes that’s an excuse for us to draw others back to our own self-centeredness. Even if I don’t yet know how to tell when the Spirit is directing me to bold action in my own life, Chan’s book will make me more aware of watching for his leading in other people’s lives.